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You are here: Home Arts & Entertainment Rick Wilson and Chris Riback: Policy and Politics are Complex Work
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Rick Wilson and Chris Riback: Policy and Politics are Complex Work

WilsonandRibackThe following was submitted by Diane Greenwald of Scarsdale:
On Wednesday evening January 15, I went to the high school for a well-attended fireside chat sponsored by the Scarsdale Adult School. Local resident and podcast phenom, Chris Riback, interviewed Rick Wilson, the GOP political operative and attack-ad producer. Out of step with his own party, never-Trumper Wilson frequently appears on CNN and MSNBC. He launched the Lincoln Project, a super-PAC for conservatives opposed to Trump. He is now peddling his most recent book, billed as an ‘insider’s guide’ on how Dems can beat Trump in the 2020 election.

I attended the event because 1) I am friendly with Chris and he invited me; 2) I support the Scarsdale Adult School; and 3) I actively support inspiring pro-choice Democratic candidates across this country. I was curious.

Good news first: Chris Riback was an excellent interviewer! He was quick, funny and prepared. His daughter sat behind me, proudly snapping photos, which reminded me how warm a local community event can be. It’s also always exciting to see the work of yet another stellar Scarsdalian. We boast so many!

Rick Wilson was witty and direct, rattled off a litany of insights about Trump, his enablers and hangers on, and even called out Fox News as the darkest force in America. It’s depressing stuff. Wilson offered some advice, much of which I agree with:

• Don’t nominate Sanders, who isn’t even a Dem and is “like, 850 years old.” Check.
• Focus on the critical states, like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, etc. Check.
• Hey campaign! Don’t take your foot off the gas until you win. Check.
• Don’t hang your hopes on young people, they typically don’t vote. Check.
• The country is more moderate than lefty progressive. Check.
• Support Senate candidates across the country and make McConnell worry; he cares more about holding power in the Senate than he cares about Trump and could, maybe, cut and run. Check.

Wilson went on. He noted that Senator McConnell raised $200M already to spread out to hot senate races, the same amount Bloomberg has already spent on himself. Interesting. Wilson further noted that a woman can and has won the popular vote, but that the electoral college isn’t going anywhere so be sure to focus on it. He counseled party discipline. OK, thanks.

Here is the rub. I am wary of a cynical, jaded and long-time Republican strategist lecturing me and the Democrats. Trump didn’t rise out of nowhere, and I’m concerned by the lack of humility that comes with Wilson’s commentary.

Rick Wilson began by saying, “I have not changed.” And that’s a problem, a disappointment. Wilson bemoaned an American tribalism that he helped create in his decades of work leveraging and unleashing simplistic, dismissive fear-mongering messages for a buck. And though he claims devotion to the Constitution and the rule of law, he doesn’t seem to have much faith in human beings. “Just win.” He says. OK, but at what cost to our national fabric? Playing to anti-intellectualism, encouraging sound-bite decision making, and amplifying base fears doesn’t get us to a better America.

Wilson is a strategist first, stating on his website that he enjoys, “overthrowing governments” along with fishing. This is sport to him, and his long career making hard-hitting, dismissive attack ads for Republican candidates is part of the problem, not the solution. Democrats are not pure as driven snow nor are they of one mind, and politicians all are a strange breed, but the adherence to the most base and manipulative instincts in campaigning can’t be a good answer.

I can’t forget that Wilson was part of the machine that made ‘liberal’ a dirty word, demonized our government, unleashed hatred, and divides for political expedience. Wilson spent a career filling seats with bodies, not with quality candidates. I don’t think he can have it both ways-- be a puppet master, manipulating the masses AND espousing value in an America he made a career of undermining.

Politics and policy are complex work that requires vision, patience, diplomacy, character, compromise and intelligence. And we should be promoting those qualities and leaving behind the dirty games targeting the ‘under-educated’ (Wilson’s word) and uniformed with incendiary rhetoric.

Wilson and I agree on one key thing – anyone would be better than Trump, the most corrupt, lawless, morally bankrupt, racist, sexist, xenophobic bad actor we have ever known in the presidency. For example, Wilson sheepishly acknowledged that even… dare I say it… Elizabeth Warren would be better. He may not agree with her on much, he said, “but she isn’t insane.” In fact, he goes one to point out that Warren is smart, prepared, experienced, compassionate and honest. (I’ll quote Wilson, offering the same comment he shot at an audience member later in the program: “Duh.”)

I have no idea who to back for the presidency and Wilson didn’t help much (though I was struck by how many of us spontaneously clapped at the mention of Amy Klobuchar, hmmm…) but I think it’s a good start not to undermine anyone and to focus on those fundamental qualities -- smart, prepared, experienced, compassionate and honest. Let’s sell that to the public!

In the end, Wilson may be good at dishing, and offer clear-eyed strategy, but I didn’t buy his book. He struck me as too mercenary, not a man making amends. The GOP isn’t hiring him, so he has targeted a new audience! Not Florida evangelicals, but me, whom he noted by my demographic highlights – a white, educated, suburban woman and lifelong Democrat who is afraid of 4 more years of Trump. He knows his market, he claimed! But hey, not everything is predictable – I said no thanks, I’m not buying.

Thank you to Chris Riback and the Scarsdale Adult School for a great event!

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